Piezoelectric nanoribbons for monitoring cellular deformations

Thanh D. Nguyen, Nikhil Deshmukh, John M. Nagarah, Tal Kramer, Prashant K. Purohit, Michael J. Berry, Michael C. McAlpine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

148 Scopus citations


Methods for probing mechanical responses of mammalian cells to electrical excitations can improve our understanding of cellular physiology and function. The electrical response of neuronal cells to applied voltages has been studied in detail, but less is known about their mechanical response to electrical excitations. Studies using atomic force microscopes (AFMs) have shown that mammalian cells exhibit voltage-induced mechanical deflections at nanometre scales, but AFM measurements can be invasive and difficult to multiplex. Here we show that mechanical deformations of neuronal cells in response to electrical excitations can be measured using piezoelectric PbZr x Ti 1- x O 3 (PZT) nanoribbons, and we find that cells deflect by 1/nm when 120/mV is applied to the cell membrane. The measured cellular forces agree with a theoretical model in which depolarization caused by an applied voltage induces a change in membrane tension, which results in the cell altering its radius so that the pressure remains constant across the membrane. We also transfer arrays of PZT nanoribbons onto a silicone elastomer and measure mechanical deformations on a cow lung that mimics respiration. The PZT nanoribbons offer a minimally invasive and scalable platform for electromechanical biosensing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)587-593
Number of pages7
JournalNature Nanotechnology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Bioengineering
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • General Materials Science


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